A teenager suffering mental health issues carried out an unprovoked attack on someone who regarded him as a friend from school days, a court was told.

Regan Hirst carried out the sudden attack in a park in Crook, where he and others were supposedly awaiting the arrival of someone from whom they intended to buy cannabis.

Durham Crown Court heard that the victim had returned to Crook having lived for a while in Spain and renewed friendship with the defendant and others he had previously known from schooldays.

Prior to the day of the incident the victim had met Hirst in a pub in Crook and considered there were no issues between them.

The Northern Echo: Sudden unprovoked attack by defendant took place in Glenholme Park, Crook, in March 2022

Jon Harley, prosecuting, said on the day in question, Hirst messaged the complainant asking if he wanted to meet up and get, “sniff”.

They met outside Crook Town FC ground at 8pm and Hirst, who was with two others, suggested going to the town park, where they were apparently to meet the cannabis seller.

Mr Harley said the conversation appeared normal as they sat on a hill, while the victim was on his bike.

After a few minutes in the park Hirst went to some bushes where he was seen picking something up, before returning to the group with his hands behind his back.

As the complainant moved slightly away, Hirst suddenly hit him over the head with some form of implement, of which the victim did not catch full sight.

He was knocked off his bike, before rolling down the hill, where he was approached by Hirst who punched him to the face, knocking him to the ground and then delivered a further flurry of punches.

Such was the velocity of the blows that the victim could not even put his hands up to protect his face.

Mr Harley said the attack suddenly came to an abrupt halt and the victim managed to stagger to his bike and cycle home.

He said throughout the whole ordeal Hirst never uttered a word to the complainant who was at a loss as to why he had been attacked.

The Northern Echo:

When he got home, his mother phoned 999 and the victim, who was bleeding from the ear and a swollen right cheek, sought hospital treatment the following day.

He was treated for swellings to the right side of his face, bleeding from the ear and a laceration to the left eye.

A CT scan revealed he had fractures to the right cheek arch and an outer eye socket.

In his victim statement, he said the attack was unprovoked, leaving him with nasty injuries and scarring, after which he was wary about leaving his home in case something else took place.

But he said he felt lucky to leave the scene with nothing worse than the injuries he suffered.

Mr Harley said the defendant, who was 18 at the time of the incident, in March 2022, but who is now 20, has four convictions for six offences, and was last before a court for causing criminal damage for which he received a community order in May last year.

But his other past convictions include assaults as both a youth offender and in April last year.

The court heard some of those offences post-date the attack in the park.

Judge Nathan Adams asked about the “substantial delay” in the current case coming to court and was told the defendant was not interviewed until February last year, almost a year after the incident, and was first summonsed to court last October.

Although Hirst, of Stanley Way, Crook, was initially charged with wounding with intent, his guilty plea to the slightly lesser offence of unlawful wounding was considered “acceptable” to the Crown, at an earlier hearing.

James Fenny, in mitigation, told the court that two psychiatric reports prepared for the court both come to the conclusion that at the time of the attack, and through the whole of 2022, the defendant was suffering from delusional thoughts, paranoid schizophrenia, which had not been addressed.

“He was unwell and likely not to know what he was doing, affecting his thinking.”

Mr Fenny said two years, exactly, have now elapsed since the incident, involving someone with whom the defendant was an acquaintance in the past.

He said the delay has led to the offence pre-dating subsequent offending for which he has been dealt with by way of a community order, with thinking skills probation requirement.

“He has kept out of trouble since that time and it seems the assistance he has since received is working really well.

“There has been a huge improvement in his well-being.

“He’s on medication, a drug directly moderating his schizophrenia, and he has a stable home life.”

Mr Fenny said a relative provides support for the defendant, offering, “real hope for him.”

He has not only been able to address his mental health issues but has now found work with an electronics company in Bishop Auckland, on a 30-hours-a-week basis.

Judge Adams told Hirst the court should have dealt with all his offending since 2022, altogether.

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But he took into account that the defendant has kept out of trouble since the offences for which he was dealt with in April and May last year, and told him it would be, “wrong in principle” for him to jail him for the March 2022 offence, when it should have been before the court much earlier.

“I accept there’s a mental disorder linked to the offence and the causing of really serious harm.”

Judge Adams said he was satisfied that the appropriate sentence is a four-month prison term, suspended for 18 months, during which the defendant must attend 40 probation-overseen rehabilitation activity days.